Catholic Church urges ‘clarity’ from Berlusconi over sex scandal

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ROME - The Catholic Church in Italy Tuesday urged embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to shed light on charges facing him in a widening sex scandal.

“Necessary clarity”, demanded the headline of a front-page editorial of Avvenire, a daily newspaper owned by Italy’s Catholic Bishops Conference.

About “the umpteenth judicial-political scandal”, raging against the premier “there is but one certainty: the need to swiftly offer clarity”, said SIR, a news agency also linked to Italy’s bishops.

The call came a day after prosecutors in Milan submitted to parliament documents containing alleged evidence that Berlusconi financially supported and slept with a “significant number” of prostitutes, including an underage Moroccan.

The documents also detailed “abuse of power” by Berlusconi when he intervened on behalf of the then 17-year-old Karima El Mahroug, while she was being held by police in connection with theft in May 2010.

While abuse of power by the premier “is the most serious offence from the point of view of penal consequences”, that of underage prostitution “is from a moral point of view downright intolerable”, wrote Avvenire editor Marco Tarquinio.

He stressed how the Catholic church has played a major role in denouncing prostitution in Italy — including the exploitation of foreign women and girls.

Berlusconi has in past repeatedly asserted that his conservative People of Freedom party upholds traditional family values and Italy’s Catholic traditions.

But Avvenire’s editor questioned whether the premier’s alleged actions were in line with a September 2010 call made by the head of Italy’s bishops.

At the time, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco said that for those holding positions of responsibility in government and elsewhere, “good behaviour is inseparable from one’s role”.

“A tornado has struck not only Italy’s main political leader and a group of his friends … but the international image of our country as well as discussions between parents and children, colleagues and even between strangers in the street,” Tarquinio wrote.

In a televised address Sunday, billionaire media mogul Berlusconi said he met El Mahroug and other women at formal dinners he hosted at his villa near Milan.

The premier rejected prosecutors’ allegations that he exploited El Mahroug as “absurd”, and reiterated that in his life he has never paid for sex.

After newspapers broke the story in October 2010, Berlusconi confirmed he had intervened on El Mahroug’s behalf to prevent her from spending time in jail, and asked police to release her in the custody of a regional politician and former television showgirl, Nicole Minetti.

Berlusconi reportedly told police that El Mahroug, a sometime go-go dancer who uses the stage name Ruby Rubacuori (heart stealer), was a niece of Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak.

Last week police raided Minetti’s offices seizing documents and computer files, reports said. Minetti is also being investigated in connection with the probe.

Berlusconi has been embroiled in a series of sex scandals — including one in May 2009 when his wife, Veronica Lario, announced her intention of divorcing him after reports that Berlusconi had attended the 18th birthday party of a lingerie model.

Lario also accused her husband of “frequenting” underage women, a charge the premier denied.

In June 2009, a self-described escort, Patrizia D’Addario, alleged she spent the night with Berlusconi at his residence in Rome.

Filed under: Religion

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